We were sitting in the Asheville Brewing Company when the doubts began to set in. A man with ear plugs and an easy friendliness had just served us a cast iron skillet balanced with samples of foamy beer and Mr. V was talking about possibilities but I couldn't hear a word he had to say. I was trying not to cry.
I had the Rockies on my mind. My people were prairie and mountain raised, pioneers moving ever westward and it's not a thing you soon forget. Your ancestral landscape gets into your blood and like it or not, in some ways you will always be the place you came from. Brevard was beautiful but it was a shock to my sensibilities and sitting in a bright, artsy city, I remembered where I was made. Craving one place and longing for the other, I never know where I might land.
We'd crossed the French Broad river, which I will never say without seeing a smoky-eyed woman pulling up her stockings, and made a right on a corner where The Thirsty Monk faced Jack In The Woods Public House. I might as well have been in Avalon or Paris. The Monk was a bright purple building, packed wall to wall on a string of similar tall facades, the streets loose brick that shifted beneath our feet and meandered around courtyards and bright alleyways, each one brimming with drinking, dining folk facing streetward, a la Parisienne. Plenty of bookstores, plenty of earthy chicks with scarves in their hair like me and legs that go a long time between shavings, also like me. (Sorry, my Californian sisters, but it's true). There were specialty stores for everything from pastries to wine to cured meats to dog biscuits, and this is exactly what I love about Edinburgh and Manhattan and all the great old cities. Asheville is known as the Paris of the south, and now I know why.
In Asheville it seems that the culture is the counter-culture, but no one's feeling smug about it like they are in Boulder. Perhaps because you get the sense that Asheville isn't a place where rich pseudo-hippies have settled because it's beautiful and has a Whole Foods, but a place where eclectic people, people normally on the fringe, have congregated and they ain't smug but so damn happy to have found each other in all this mess, and who woulda thunk but they've made a home.
Driving in to Asheville we'd spotted an old man waving a confederate flag from a bridge, but inside the city there was no such nonsense. The brewery was running over with young families. Mr. V was talking mortgages and I was craving babies, the surest sign of trouble I know. I shook myself back into the present and shifted towards sunny as we walked up Patton, past traveling musicians to Hayward and Battery Park Avenue, where I was reminded that there is history in the south, history involving names like Grant and Lee and Stonewall Jackson. After standing quietly taking in the view of the hills from the portico of St. Lawrence Basilica, my husband decided to take me out for a French dinner and we found Bouchon almost by accident. "This city should be a good place to get French," I said to Mr. V. "Asheville has a lot of French influence." Since this is my blog and we're into being honest here, I'll admit that this is one of those things I say more by instinct than by actual knowledge. But steering by instinct is what landed us here in the first place, so I went with it.
Bouchon was at the end of hill where we'd spotted a Japanese chef plucking herbs from his garden to use in whatever culinary mischief he was up to. We sat in the cobblestoned alley, filled with greenery and umbrellas and summer soiree lights. I ordered my first pate and my first Kir Royal and thought, if I can't have Paris yet, at least I have this. Mr. V ordered the canard a l'orange rubbed with cocoa nibs and I stuck to moules-frites. They tasted of the ocean and I sucked them down, happy as any sea star nestled in its proper bed.
We left Bouchon and were headed up the hill when the skies just broke right open, faster than a prairie thunderstorm. Look at that cute little cloud, I thought, and then suddenly the rain was too torrential to see in. We were standing just in front of a brewery, so having one more drink was the only thing to do. There was a deep covered patio, perfect for sipping and breathing in the scent of rain, the bright light on the art deco buildings just across the street, and smiling like we'd won the lottery. This is my favorite thing about traveling. You're just going along in your life and suddenly serendipity blesses you so certain you know there is good in all this limping, stuttering earth. I grinned wildy at Mr. V over a salty margarita and told him how I loved it when this happens. That's when it struck me that I've always said I want to live in a lively city and in the middle of nowhere, and that maybe in this part of North Carolina I could have both.
There are things I haven't told you: there is a Starbucks in Brevard, but it's inside a grocery store and while the local coffee spot makes a creamy, nutty latte, it has the ambiance of a Furr's in foreclosure. Mr. V says that when I saw his first paycheck from the brewery, I cried. I have no memory of this but I don't doubt it. What I know is that in the end, anywhere I go is going to become one more place I want to leave.
The next day it was time to head home. We traveled over four hours in the rain from Brevard back to Atlanta and when we got to the gate at 2:35, after running faster and farther than I have since college, our 2:40 departure had already left. We sat half the day in the Atlanta airport, so overstimulating I curled up on the floor with headphones in my ears and closed my eyes. I stayed that way until Mr. V brought me a frozen yogurt and it was time to board the plane and fly west, west over prarie, west toward home. We passed over a spectacular lightnight storm and watched great thunderheads light up rhythmically from the top side, clearer now than ever the way those clouds answer each other, a nebular call and response. Departure was at the tail-end of evening and a strip of electric blue sunset hung stubborn in the sky. We chased that last light of sun all the way home. We never did catch it.